Abbey Francis Goes to the Health Center
I woke up with the kind of singular, dreaded discomfort of uncontrollable itchiness that so many women (and a small percentage of men) know well—the itchiness of a yeast infection.
When the Davison Health Center opened at 9:00 a.m., I immediately called to schedule an appointment. I couldn’t see one of the two female doctors because of my tight schedule, so I made an appointment to see Dr. Davis Smith instead. I’ll admit it—I was a bit freaked out to be examined by a male doctor.
I arrived at the health center, filled out a form, and waited about fifteen minutes before I was called by Nurse Rosemary into a doctor’s office and was asked the routine questions: What are your symptoms? Are you sexually active? Men or women? How many partners? Are you safe? When Dr. Davis came in a few minutes later, he asked the same questions and came to the conclusion that my answers precluded an STI (Sexually Transmitted Infection—the more technically correct term for STD).
So to the ubiquitous gynecological stirrups I went, to be examined and cotton-swabbed by the doctor and watched over by Nurse Rosemary. After looking at the swab under a microscope, Dr. Davis prescribed the miraculous single dose Flucanazole pill. Within a few hours, my symptoms were all but erased.
Full disclosure: I think I’m an awkward patient. I’m the kind who’s overly cheery and direct in an attempt to diffuse the weirdness of talking to a total stranger about my sexual health and habits. As I left the health center, I considered this attitude I have towards sexual health and wondered: do doctors appreciate this attitude? How can we, as Wesleyan students, be the best patients while taking full advantage of the sexual health services that the health center has to offer?
So I set out to discover what Wesleyan doctors wish patients would do in these visits, what prevents us from doing those things, and what we can all do to get the most out of those awkward conversations.
I would venture a guess that the first obstacle to receiving sexual healthcare for many students is confusion about bureaucratic issues like payment, confidentiality, and services offered. For these concerns, let me just say that Davison is probably your easiest and cheapest local option, and makes payment and confidentiality very easy. The first thing students should know is that visits to the health center are free—or, rather, included in the cost of your tuition—and completely confidential. For specific services, students have the option to bill sensitive things like STI testing and treatment to their student account under a vague description, pay out of pocket (for a lower price than local clinics offer), or bill to insurance. As for the testing itself, Davison does a range of STI tests on site (including tests for HIV and Chlamydia), all for $30 or less. Pregnancy tests are only $10 and Plan B is $22—both are cheaper than what you’ll find at the local drugstore. Birth control pills are available for $20.
However, fiddling with the bill is of secondary importance to what you actually do in the visit. To get the doctors’ opinions, I spoke to Dr. Emily Daponte and Dr. Davis. When I asked Daponte what she wishes students would do more often, she simply said, “Come in.”
Both she and Davis also discouraged Googling before any kind of examination. As Davis put it, “You tell me the problem, I’ll tell you the diagnosis. That’s my job. That’s what I spent all that money for—going to medical school.”
And frankly, Wesleyan doctors are good at their jobs. Davis in particular has spent recent years developing systems for handling sexual health among college students and teaching these systems to other colleges’ health service professionals.
“What I’m interested in is knowing what the risk factors are—I’m not interested in boxing people into straight, or gay, or trans or whatever… that doesn’t matter to me. What matters to me is what you’re putting where and where it’s been before.”
This philosophy leads the doctors at Wesleyan to be pretty shock-proof. When I asked Daponte if anything has ever made her uncomfortable during an examination, she had to seriously think about the question.
“I’ve been in practice a long time. Every once in a while I’ll walk out of the room and I’m like, ‘Boy, I’ve never heard that story before.’ So… I think I’ve heard everything, except every once in a while.”
In general, both doctors felt that there was little to improve on in the visit itself. With relatively straightforward questions and answers, the patient’s job should be pretty easy.
“What makes a good patient is being specific about facts,” said Daponte. Davis added that it’s important for patients to follow the therapy discussed in the visit—or tell the doctor if you’re not going to.
The best piece of advice, however, was tossed out by Dr. Davis: “As a rule, if there’s something wrong with the genitalia, keep that gun in your holster until we’re out of Dodge.” Surely words to live by, both in and out of the health center.
Francis is a member of the class of 2014.